“Tailing a bull from a plane…”
We took off from a grass strip, and soon my brother-in-law leveled the Piper Cub. Instead of looking for feral cattle hiding in the scrub, he headed east toward the Limmen Bight River, a waterway that empties into the Gulf of Carpentaria on the northeastern coast of Australia’s Northern Territory.
“Let’s check out the crocs,” he said.
In a matter of minutes, we were flying over the tide-dominated river.
“What a beauty,” he said, dropping the plane to about four hundred feet above the river for a closer look at two crocodiles.
My stomach churned and I clutched the crumpled paper bag he’d given me before the flight. He buzzed by the huge reptiles.
“Are we tailing crocs?” I asked.
He laughed. “Those critters are too treacherous.” The plane shot up. My stomach rolled and rumbled. He banked the Piper, turned, and lunged down again, nearly touching the water to get another glimpse before climbing high enough to sail over the top of the trees along the riverbank.
We headed back toward the camp, buzzing overhead to notify the men waiting below that mustering was about to begin. My pilot brother-in-law, flying at 250 kilometers per hour, spotted a herd of cattle among the trees and scrub. He lowered the plane once more, between trees this time. He focused out the window, making sure his first pass had moved the cattle into the open. We flew up, circled, and made a second pass at the herd. My stomach catapulted to my throat.
With cattle clearly in the open now, the drivers of the Land Rover and Toyota, like cowboys on horseback, chased the herd into the flimsy hessian paddock. Once the stock was corralled, stockmen jumped off to close the wider end of the portable paddock. Then we saw a cow turn and leave the makeshift corral, heading straight toward a stockman. Moving her head down into attack mode, she went for him. The sheep dogs chased alongside, barking at her.
Two stockmen came up from the rear, like alternate bullfighters in an arena protecting the master bullfighter. One grabbed the cow’s tail, knocking her to the ground. The second stockman tied bull straps around her hind legs. She fought, swinging her head, aiming her horns to hook the men.
The plane circled and we lost sight of the struggle below us. When we came around again, the cow was subdued and tied. I glanced at the hessian paddock and saw the men working the cattle up the ramp into the cattle trailer. The aerial view of the mustering, despite my queasy tummy, had been exciting.
My brother-in-law landed the plane, bumping along for a few hundred feet on the grass field. Once we stopped, I handed the crumpled paper bag to him.
“No vomiting,” he asked, surprised. “You’re ready to tail your own bullock!”
Next installment: Back at the Homestead
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This blog is based on my recollections of my life in Australia many years ago. My own photographs of Australia are not only limited, they are old 35mm film in dismal condition. To make the series more appealing to the reader, I supplement with photographs that are similar to the experiences and locations I’ve described in this series. I’m often dependent on pictures from the public domain, Visual Hunt, and Creative Commons. “Toothy Indulgence” by Los Paseos is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0
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